Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signs bills to legalize cannabis
Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill to legalize cannabis on Wednesday. This is the first time a state in the south has approved the use and sale of adult marijuana. The move postpones the legalization of simple possession of cannabis to July 1, two years earlier than the laws originally approved by lawmakers in February.
The governor said the legislation was a “milestone” for the state, calling it a step toward “building a more just and just Virginia and reforming our criminal justice system to make it fairer”.
“What this really means is that people will no longer be arrested or punished for simple possessions that follow them and affect their lives,” Governor Ralph Northam said during a press conference with activists and lawmakers that was broadcast live on Facebook Wednesday afternoon . “We know that marijuana laws in Virginia and across the country have been disproportionately enforced against color communities and low-income Virginians.”
Starting July 1, 2021, adults 21 years and older will be allowed to own up to one ounce of marijuana. Adults are allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants at home, but only in locations that are not open to the public. Plants must also have the owner’s license or identification number and a note stating that they are for personal use. The bill “also modifies several other criminal penalties related to marijuana and restricts the dissemination of criminal record information related to certain marijuana crimes.”
Legislation, signed by Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday, also sets out a regulatory and tax framework for the commercial cultivation, manufacture and sale of recreational cannabis. The cannabis trade regulations are due to come into effect on July 1, 2024 to give state officials time to draft regulations and issue licenses to licensed cannabis companies.
With the signing of the bill by Governor Ralph Northam, the start date for legalizing personal possessions increases
The original version of the legislation passed by lawmakers in February delayed implementation of provisions legalizing personal possession of cannabis until 2024, when legal recreational marijuana sales are due to begin. In March, Northam returned the bill to legislature with proposed amendments, including one to postpone legalization of cannabis possession until this year.
“Personally, I don’t think we should arrest or punish anyone for something we want to legalize,” Northam said last month. “I plan to put a number of amendments to the legislature and I hope we can push them forward.”
Jenn Pedini, the development director for the National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform and executive director of the Virginia chapter of the Marijuana Policy Reform Group, appeared with Northam at the legislation signing ceremony on Wednesday.
“Today we celebrate together an extraordinary victory for cannabis justice in the Commonwealth,” said Pedini. “We still have so much work to do and NORML remains committed to our efforts on behalf of the Virginians, lawmakers, administration and the new cannabis control agency to make sure we get this right.”
At the signing ceremony on Wednesday, Northam noted that studies have shown that blacks are more than three times more likely than whites to be arrested for a cannabis crime, even though racial groups are similarly likely to use cannabis. House spokeswoman Eileen Filler-Corn said that “the ban on cannabis is long-running, unevenly enforced and used to monitor our brown and black communities”.
“This law is about restorative justice and the support of economically disadvantaged areas in all parts of the Commonwealth,” said Charniele Herring, chairwoman of the majority of the House.